The end of this noxious year is rapidly approaching. While everyone’s happy to leave 2020 behind, the arrival of fall and winter doesn’t mean everyone’s thrilled to welcome cold weather. Witness: Everyone who works in a restaurant and is wondering what the hell is going to happen once it’s 30 degrees plus wind chill and a seat on the patio just doesn’t appeal to customers.
There are a slew of workshops, webinars, brainstorming sessions, and articles exploring this exact question, but sometimes it’s the simplest question that can start the creative cogs turning. That’s what happened to Brian Nolan, owner of Blue Moose Pizza (which has outposts in Vail and Beaver Creek), who was on a hike when Beaver Creek announced it was calling off its annual Oktoberfest celebration and Wine & Spirits Festival.
“My phone blew up,” says Nolan. “I was on this beautiful hike at the time, and in plain English, I was like, ‘Who cares?'”
For context, Nolan notes his business (as well as that of many bar and restaurants he’s surveyed in Vail and Beaver Creek) was actually fairly good through the summer months. He admits revenues are down, but he hasn’t seen the sort of dramatic decline—40 to 50 percent, or even more—some eateries in other areas of Colorado are reporting. Still, he says, “Everyone had a good summer, but it’s all based on outdoor seating.” Compared to the prospect of losing that capacity, the cancellation of a few events seemed like small fry.
So he approached the town of Vail and Beaver Creek Resort Co. (BCRC) with the results of his own research: With social distancing, most restaurants in the two towns could able to utilize less than half their indoor seating, around 45 percent. Nolan asked Vail and BCRC to underwrite the cost of tenting and heating the patios of all restaurants and bars with outdoor space—over 60 businesses.
[Vail and Beaver Creek] have been very nimble. It’s a great example of how a community should work.Brian Nolan, Blue Moose Pizza
Incredibly, they agreed. After calculating the size of every deck, gathering quotes (a figure that “was nothing short of horrific,” Nolan says), and pounding the pavement with fire marshals, both Vail and BCRC agreed to pay for tents; businesses had to cover their own heating expenses. The process took about five weeks, which was longer than Nolan anticipated. (During that time, he says, “I have done nothing but tent. I am now an expert on tents.”) But he’s well aware that Vail and Eagle County (which governs the unincorporated village of Beaver Creek) have been very accommodating and easy to work with.
Not every community has ski-town money, of course. And the deal isn’t without cost for owners and operators, either. The expense of heating a patio is comparable to the cost of tenting it, according to Nolan—and he estimates the cost of covering just his two patios at around $50,000. Several restaurants in the Vail and Beaver Creek have opted out of the deal in recent days because they didn’t like the look of tents, didn’t want to incur the associated costs or maintenance, or just didn’t feel it was necessary for their to-go model. Then there’s the significant task of coordinating 60 business owners, all of who have their noses to the grindstone all day, every day.
Still, Nolan (who admits he’s “intricately involved in Beaver Creek and Vail…on all the committees you could think of”) says anyone could have spearheaded this project; it just would have taken a bit longer. For that, he credits both the town and county for their “amazing ability to react with agility and speed.”
“The community has truly come together and responded all around. That’s the beauty of living in a small valley,” he says. “It’s easier to work towards the same goal.”
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